No need to cry – the Kelsae is back again after that disastrous Italian job

THREE YEARS after an epic Italian hailstorm wiped out an entire crop of the world’s most famous onion variety, the Kelsae is back from the dead. Thanks to the skill and dedication of D.T. Brown’s breeding experts, the fruit and vegetable seed firm have again been able to bulk up their mother stock of this giant onion to offer again module-raised plants to customers. It means that for the second year running D.T. Brown are announcing the availability of their exclusive Kelsae. Grown in four secret locations in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Holland and Italy, the company managed to harvest its biggest crop for several years, though are only offering it as modules for 2019 – as they were forced to do a year ago. DTB’s general manager Tim Jeffries – he took the doom-laden call from Italy three years ago after that storm – explains: “The Kelsae is a notoriously difficult crop to grow commercially and until the seed is harvested, cleaned and germination-tested it’s impossible to tell how much seed, if any, will be available for our customers. “This season, while the overall seed crop was good, the germination rates aren’t great and are lower than we are prepared to accept for offering it to our customers as packeted seed.” By selling them as module-grown plants, DTB has negated the germination issue and claims they’ll be doing the hard work on behalf of their customers instead. Plants will be despatched from late April and customers will receive healthy, strong young plants with well-developed root systems ready to plant out on arrival. Around show circles, the Kelsae has a legendary reputation that’s second to none. A regular winner at the National Vegetable Society national championships in the “large exhibition” and “1kg to 1.5kg” onion classes, it’s unusual in also having a delicious, sweet flavour. The variety has had an unrivalled pedigree for many years and is a first choice among growers who enjoy growing their onions with HUGE dimensions. They are available to buy now –  40 plants cost £12.95. ■ To order plants of the Kelsae Onion or to request a copy of the Fruit & Vegetable Grower’s Seed and Plant Catalogue 2019, write to D. T. Brown, Bury Road, Newmarket, CB8 7PQ, telephone 0845 371 05 32, or go online Kelsae onion (DTB) ⏩⏩➡»Onion giants: Kelsaes maturing in the veg patch and (inset) how it dwarfs the human hand when grown in ideal conditions.


Phylliopsis Sugar Plum

SOME of the loveliest plants around are often those few have ever heard of – no matter what the shape, size or colour.

The one that springs to mind in my garden is a “little darling” that thrives in acid soil and which delivers its pink bells in mighty numbers and, as a bonus, also out of season – like now.

Its name – Phylliopsis hillieri Sugar Plum, pictured above. It sits in a rather unsunny spot, has reached no more than 6in high in the four years it’s been with me – without any trimming – and most certainly doesn’t call out for attention.

Unusually, this alpine is an exciting cross between two closely related genera, Kalmiopsis and Phyllodoce, and created by Hilliers Nursery in Hampshire in the 1980s.

The leaves are deep, glossy rich green, somewhat needle-like and up to half an inch long, so the little bells have no difficulty in rising above and putting on quite a show for a little fairy of a plant.

And even now, deep into autumn, several of those delightful blooms are tinkling in the breezes which is not at all bad for a plant that should flower in springtime and often again in summer. But a second repeat performance? Now that’s what I call a true champion.

I bought my phylliopsis from the excellent Hartside Nursery in Cumbria, whose owners Neil and Sue Huntley specialise in rare and unusual hardy plants that not only thrive in the challenge of the North Pennines but which are offered little or no protection from the chill winds.

The couple keep a terrific range of primulas, gentians, anemones, dwarf rhododendrons and erythroniums, the dog’s tooth violet, among others.

With Hartside’s lofty location in mind, it stands to reason all their plants have to be toughies. Which is why my phylliopsis has done rather well down here in the more balmy climes of Devon – and possibly because I do keep my eye on it!

⏩⏩➡» 381372 for a catalogue.




It’s all systems glow at Rosemoor – and a poignant poppy display too

TREES, shrubs and sculptures lit up with dynamic, colour-changing illuminations – it’s got to be the Rosemoor Glow.

This eye-boggling experience is back at the Royal Horticultural Society garden at Torrington for a third year in a row and it looks set to be the best yet.

The Glow runs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 15 November to 5 January, with extended opening until 8pm and discounted entry after 3pm.

This year there’s a brand new route, with the illuminations spread to the lake for the first time.

But that’s not all. Rosemoor’s poignant Unknown Soldier and 100-strong ceramic poppy display, marking the centenary of the ending of World War 1 hostilities, will be a focal point and will be dramatically radiant in a new position.

Winter at Rosemoor is always a treat and can often be one of the most glorious sights in all seasons.

Soon visitors can once again soak up the atmosphere as the gardens glow thanks to innovative and vibrant colour-changing lighting, providing a magical festive trail around trees, shrubs and sculptures.

The award-winning Garden Kitchen Restaurant will, as before, be serving delicious, simple family suppers from 5pm-7pm – booking recommended – while the Shop and Plant Centre will stay open until 7pm too on these nights.

Visitors enjoy the launch of the winter illuminations at RHS Garden Rosemoor

Rosemoor prides itself on being environmentally friendly and, with this in mind, the lights have been created using a permanent electricity supply, as opposed to smelly and noisy generators, and LED lights have a!so been used for lower energy consumption.

The popular annual Winter Sculpture Exhibition will also be up and running, from 15 November to 24 February. Last year more than 40,000 visitors enjoyed the eclectic mix of exhibits set against the backdrop of the gardens.

This time the display has been freshened up with a high proportion of new exhibitors. Most of the sculptures featured are for sale.

To make the most of your visit, there is also a special Winter Wonders Garden Trail which includes many specimens from Rosemoor’s National Collection of hollies.

⏩⏩➡» For more information on events go to


⏩⏩➡» Glowing with the flow: Three images of last year’s electrifying display and one of a family making friends with a beautifully created deer. Pictures courtesy of RHS Rosemoor.


The wonder of wartime Woking as it breaks two monster veg records

WAS THERE something magical in the soil down Woking way back in 1918? It’s a curious question to pose but not without good reason.

I’ve been reading the pullout supplements in the Daily Mail of the final days of World War One and noticed – under Home News – that the British record for a pumpkin was one weighing 145lb with a 6ft 6in diameter and grown in Woking.

Not only that, the record for a cauliflower tipped the scales at 10lb 15oz and also grown in the Surrey town.

Clearly, Woking was entering the World War 2 equivalent of Digging for Victory . . . but how times have changed.

Fast forward to 1970 and the British record stood at 204lb. And I should know as I was there, in my home town of the time, Coventry, having been asked to present the prizes to the pumpkin hopefuls in a contest which was taken extremely seriously across the city.

It was Frank Smith, a 37-year-old engineer, who received the trophy for the biggest pumpkin of the lot – but he just missed out the following year to beat his own record.

Take another quantum leap through the years – to 2018 – and that record has soared into the stratosphere to 2,434lb, leaving Frank’s once-mighty challenger looking distinctly modest.

Twin brothers Ian and Stuart Paton, 57, from Lymington, Hampshire, smashed their existing record with their latest monster that, in human terms, weighed 174 stone. They did it at the Jubilee Sailing Trust Pumpkin Festival at Netley, Southampton, at the weekend.

Their previous record of 162 stone was set last year and it was this intrepid pair, who run a flower nursery at Lymington, who had shattered their own record achieved in 2016.

The super squash will now travel to London for display at an exhibition in Covent Garden before its seeds are harvested to be grown next year.

Ian and Stuart, meanwhile, have their eyes on the world record of 187 stone, or 2,625lb, grown in Belgium in 2016. Both are confident of becoming world pumpkin champions before too long.

⏩⏩➡» The current British cauliflower record is held by Peter Glazebrook, with a 60.6-pounder set in 2014.

Pumpkin twins (T&M)

Frank Smith pumpkin

⏩⏩➡» Mighty veg: Top – Ian and Stuart Paton at the 2017 weigh-in. Above – Frank Smith and his 1971 effort sit alongside my report of his hopes . . . and dreams.


Grab this! My trusty rake brought back from the dead to fight another 50 years

ARISE, Sir Grabber Rake, you have done me proud over the years. Fifty years, or very nearly, to be more precise.

This wonder tool is an essential friend in autumn, raking up jawfuls of fallen leaves and, with a tug of the hollow tube, it grabs them tightly.

Then, without having to bend an inch, you simply release the plastic tube and dispense the leaves into wheel barrow, compost bin or on a pile in the corner.

In half a century of service it has never let me down, it still has a complete set of 16 teeth and the only repair was for a replacement screw some years ago after the original rusted away.

Until today, that is. As I began the latest round of grabbing after an overnight leaf fall, the rake itself came adrift and I noticed with dismay that the aluminium shaft end was buckled and the hole into which the screw was fixed to hold the rake sturdy was split.

Calamity! But not quite, though major surgery was plainly called for.  Out came my hacksaw to slice through the buckled end, along with my Black &Decker drill, to be replaced at Christmas – I hope! – by a cordless version, followed by an assiduous ten minutes as the drill bit munched its way through one side of the shaft.

Result – a fresh screw was used to attach grabber to shaft and, eureka, job done.

My titanic tool, believed to be manufactured by Wilkinson Sword but long-since discontinued, lives to rake another day, week, month . . . year.

With apologies to composer Igor Stravinski, this is one Rake’s Progress that brings music to my ears, not so much the opera on-stage but the continuing operation on the lawn.

As to the future, I shall expect another 50 years (!) of faithful service from my Indispensable Friend which simply loves to mop up thousands of autumnal droppings.

There are tools . . . and tools . . . but they don’t all get knighted for services to the gardening, you know!

Grabber rake

⏩⏩➡» Back from the dead: My 50-year-old Grabber Rake ready for action again.

Trim those hedges – with the power of petrol and convenience of cordless

IGET ON well with my Mountfield electric mower – a smart, stripy cut, not too noisy and easy to push and manoeuvre over the lawns, which is all-important for those of us “getting on” in years.

Now comes news of a new piece of kit on the block . . .  a cordless and lightweight hedge trimmer from the same company.

Mountfield has been one of the UK’s leading lawn mower and gardening tool manufacturers for over 50 years and they recognise the importance of maintaining a garden hedge that looks neat, tidy and well cared for.

I hear from Mountfield that the only thing that they want to go bang in this season full of bonfire night parties are fireworks, not your old plug-in hedge trimmer! So maybe it’s time for an upgrade.

The new Mountfield MH48Li 48V hedge trimmer is cordless and therefore the noise-free and lightweight modern option for when you are choosing a new portable cutter. Not only is this trimmer much quieter, cleaner and easier to use than a petrol powered model, it’s also around half the weight.

Its 61cm dual action laser-cut blades will slice through foliage up to 20mm in diameter, making easy work of tough trimming jobs. It has a running time of 70 minutes before a recharge is necessary.

It was recently awarded a Best Buy by a gardening publication, who stated that is was….. “Quick and efficient cutting in an easy-to-use package. Cuts as quickly and as well as a petrol hedge trimmer.”

The Mountfield MH48Li hedge trimmer, is part of the Mountfield Freedom48 range that utilises one powerful 48V battery for multiple garden tools. Do note that the hedge trimmer pack does not include battery or charger which need to be bought separately unless they are already used by you.

Approx cost: Between £99 and £150 depending on where you shop. Battery and charger prices vary, so check out with care.


Mountfield hedge trimmer

⏩⏩➡»Effortless trimming: The lady puts the new cordless hedge trimmer through its paces.


PERFORMANCE plants – don’t we just need them mightily when the going gets tough?

And this year has been very, very tough – a story of bitter cold, extreme and prolonged heat, bleached lawns, gale fury, solid endeavour and, ultimately, faith that good old Mother Nature will win in the end.

And she has . . . I think.

Gardening? We love it, don’t we, through thick and thin? From my own beds and borders, in both sunny and shady spots, I’ve given star treatment here to seven of those plants that performed with true grit against pretty monster odds.

By performance plants, I mean those which grew, bloomed and went over and above expectations, often battling against conditions which made me check my own sanity when I was out there staking a tall ‘un rendered Pisa-like in the gales or watering a wilting salvia when the mercury topped 35deg.

All the photos here I took in my own garden this summer and autumn and all plants should be conveniently buyable at local garden centres.

So here goes with brief details of my Super Seven, chosen in ABC order as any other way would leave me head-scratching for hours to decide which merits which sequence.

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: Rose of the Year 2010 . . . even without the help of Joanna Lumley et al! A sumptuous harvest-yellow floribunda that lives right up to its name. Myrrh fragrance. Catalogues say 2ft high; mine always tops 2ft 6in and more. Masses of flowers, healthy and one of the best.

ERODIUM: Easily confused with its better-known close cousin the hardy geranium but with prettier foliage, often toothed and hairy. I grow Erodium manescavii from the Pyrenees, bearing magenta-purple mini-saucers and, seemingly, always in bloom. Popular name Stork’s Bill because of seed pod shape. Easily grown from seed.

OENOTHERA MACROCARPA: Used to be missouriensis, a vigorous, compact American perennial rarely topping 6in. Dinner-plates in clear yellow look much too big for this dinky chap, but they keep producing them for weeks on end, even though they unwrap, open wide and fade in just a day – two days if you’re lucky.

PETUNIA NIGHT SKY: There’s a touch of Marmite about petunias – some love ’em for their sheer unashamed extrovert personalities in a myriad of colours, other hate them because they are, well, a touch chintzy and with strong shades of the 70s. Night Sky, though, is another “ab fab” flower in midnight purple-blue and striking white spots and streaks. Each gently trailing trumpet is unique. In bloom and expanding for weeks.

PIERIS: So many plus-points about this evergreen Oriental beauty – panicles of urn-shaped creamy flowerss followed by the topmost foliage in vivid red. I grow Forest Flame with leaves that show intense scarlet when young, turning pink, cream and finally green. A magnificent performer.

PYRACANTHA: A majestic blossom-to-berry evergreen. Creamy blooms like pieris but a different shape and a stunning bonus in red, yellow or orange berries in late summer and autumn – depending on the variety – allowing the birds to have their fill. I’ve grown Orange Glow for at least 20 years and each time it never fails to deliver. Beware of the spines!

VINCA: The ground-hogging lesser periwinkle is usually found in shades of purple-blue or white. Mine, though, is different, being violet-pink – no idea of the variety – and growing as a neat mound. Its blooms are still unfolding as November dawns, as they have done for months, and my original plant has turned into seven or eight thanks to division or cuttings and presented to family and friends. Very desirable and trouble-free.

⏩⏩➡» Seven to swoon over: From top left and clockwise – Rose Absolutely Fabulous, Erodium manescavii, petunia Night Sky, Vinca, the mauve-pink periwinkle, the vibrant berries of pyracantha Orange Glow, the scarlet leaves of pieris Forest Flame and its cascading white blossom.